When you apply for a job, employers want to see your references to ensure that someone will vouch for you as a worker. Book endorsements work the same way: They assure readers that someone is vouching for the quality of the book, even if only in the form of a snappy one-liner on its cover.
Considering there’s no rulebook to follow, writers are often confused about how to request and obtain blurbs. Fear not, gentle scribe, for I’ve been down this road before with many of my books, and I’m here to be your personal endorsement etiquette coach.
1. Don’t expect someone to write a blurb about an unsold or unfinished manuscript unless he knows your prior work well. You’re asking your target to invest time into reading and commenting on your manuscript; it’s unlikely for him to want to do this without knowing that the book is actually going to be published.
2. If you’re self-publishing, say so up front and include a sentence or two about how you plan to market and distribute the book. This will reassure the potential endorser that he’s not wasting his time reviewing a book that will never be read.
3. If you’re publishing traditionally, know that sometimes your publisher will help you get blurbs, but often, it won’t. Even if your publisher has bestselling authors in your genre in its stable, don’t assume your editor or publicist will have no problem getting blurbs from those authors—this is typically not the case. Bestselling authors are inundated with blurb requests and have little to gain from doing them. If you have a special request you think your publisher might be able to help with, go ahead and ask—but be prepared to do most of the blurb hunting on your own.
4. When identifying potential sources to blurb your book, choose people who will matter to your audience. By all means, go after celebrities and leaders, but only when they have some personal interest in your subject. And don’t rely on the “big names” to come through. Make sure you’re also approaching people who are more attainable but still relevant: authors of related books or college professors, for example.
5. Don’t wait for your editor to tell you it’s time to get blurbs—ask for a deadline. When you’re close to finishing your manuscript, write or call your targets and give a short summary of who you are, what your book is about and who’s publishing it. Then say something along the lines of, “I’m hoping you will consider reading my book and providing a short comment about it if you like it. It would mean a great deal to me to have your endorsement on the book’s cover or front pages. May I send it to you?”
6. Don’t forget to explain why you think your target might be personally interested in the book. Blurbs are self-serving things. You’re asking for an endorsement because you think that person’s opinion will help you sell more books—but why will this book interest her? Be as personal and specific as possible, such as, “I attended a lecture where you advised people to pay more attention to food labels. I thought of that lecture as I wrote Chapter 4, and I hope you’ll like it.”
7. Be prepared to send a hard copy of your manuscript; not everyone wants to read entire books in e-mail attachments. Your publisher might assist in producing bound galleys that you can use for this purpose.
8. Never pay for a blurb. There are a few services online that charge for blurbs and reviews. Ignore them heartily. Their words are useless—no one cares that a person from “Bob’s Review Service” said your book was a timeless classic, and if readers discover that your endorsements were bought, you could be in for a big embarrassment. That said, it’s reasonable for you (or your publisher) to pay an author to write a foreword, if your book warrants one.
9. Set a reasonable deadline and follow up with your potential blurb sources, but don’t be a pest. Whenever someone agrees to consider blurbing your book, give a polite deadline (“If you enjoy the book, I’d appreciate your comments by Oct. 12”). Make sure this deadline is a week or more before you actually need the copy. A few days before your set deadline, follow up with a reminder.
10. In some cases, it’s OK to offer to write the blurb yourself. This is tricky in terms of appropriateness, and it helps to have good “people-reading” skills. Don’t do this with a published author, who would likely be offended. However, busy professionals in other fields are often glad to sign off on whatever you write. If you’re near the deadline and the person still hasn’t commented, you might ask, “Do you want me to suggest some phrasing you could use? I’m hoping for something like this …” and offer two or three “sample” blurbs that the person can tweak. If you do this, go easy on the fawning praise and instead highlight special content in your book.
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